If you have spent significant time in Asia, chances are you have seen your share of temples. Much like the churches in Europe, after a while, they all seem to blend together. 3 months into my Asia trip and I had thought I had seen my last pagoda. And then I went to Myanmar. With over 2000 pagodas and temples in Bagan alone, it became impossible to avoid.
But why would I?
The unique colours of the temples in Bagan and the sheer concentration rejuvenated my interest in these places of worship. So much so that I’m here to share the best ways to tackle the endless pagodas and temples in Bagan. They really should not be missed.
Getting To Bagan
Before we dive into how to tour the temples, let’s look at how to get to Bagan.
International flights to Myanmar currently only operate to Mandalay and the capital of Yangon. From there it is a short domestic flight to Bagan. Note, getting into the country is cheap. Getting to Bagan, not so much. My flight from Bangkok to Mandalay, for example, was roughly $45. Mandalay to Bagan was $200.
- READ MORE: How to get a Myanmar Visa in Bangkok
Bus travel is possible between Yangon and Bagan. There are both comfortable coach buses and minibus options available and take around 5-hours on a modern highway. Coach buses are air-conditioned and operate twice daily. Minibuses offer less comfort but are more frequent with four buses per day.
Another option between Yangon and Bagan is the “express” ferry. This slow boat takes almost 9-hours but does offer a unique way to travel in Myanmar. One-way tickets run about $50. I have not taken this route but assumed it would be scenic. I have read reports that this is not the case so keep this in mind.
Lastly, there is an overnight train connecting Yangon and Bagan. The train departs at 16:00 and arrives the following morning at 10:00. There are both cheap second class tickets (~$4) and sleeper cars (~$50). There is also a train arriving from Mandalay however it is ~10 hours long and more crowded so I would not recommend this route as a first choice.
Touring Bagan by Car
The easiest and most comfortable way to explore the endless temples in Bagan is by hiring a driver for the day. For about $20 you can escape the Myanmar heat and visit the temples from sunrise to sunset in the comforts of an air-conditioned coach. It also gets you to the most popular sites with a guide telling you what you are actually looking at.
Touring Bagan by Scooter
The most exciting way to explore the temples in Bagan is by renting a scooter or E-bike. For as little as $5 per day, you can scoot your way around town – stopping at as many or as little temples as you like. The downside to exploring by scooter is you are left to guide your self. The upside is you are left to guide yourself. I had the best time visiting the smaller and less crowded sites, stopping when and where I wanted.
Touring Bagan by Horse Cart
The slowest and most laid-back way to tour the temples in Bagan is by horse cart. This is definitely the most unique way to go but can be hot and long. This also means you only see a few temples along the way.
Touring Bagan by Balloon
Arguably the most scenic way to tour the temples in Bagan is by hot air balloon. I was looking forward to this method as I fell in love with ballooning while touring Cappadocia, but alas I was in Bagan during the off-season. Hot air ballooning runs from October to March and costs around $300 per person. A high price in comparison to the other ways of tackling the temples but I can only imagine the spectacular and peaceful views you are presented with.
The best way to Tackle the Temples in Bagan
Of course, there is no best way to tackle the temples in Bagan. Depending on your budget and time, your approach may vary. If you are short on time or want to see and experience as much as possible then my suggestion is to combine a few ways as I did. Hire a driver for sunrise then a horse cart to take you back to your hotel for a rest. Rent a scooter for an afternoon of exploring and find a quiet spot for sunset. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting between October and March don’t miss a balloon ride…and let me know how it goes.
Good to Know
- Ask the staff at your hotel/hostel to arrange a driver or scooter rental
- If renting a scooter take a map and sunscreen!
- Be sure to have your $20 Bagan tourist card with you! This is purchased on arrival at the airport. Random checks happen at the major temples in Bagan.
What say you?
Thoughts on how to tour the Temples in Bagan?
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